Pure O is “a variant of OCD… persons are troubled by sudden thoughts or images of awful things… These thoughts do not involve a compulsion to do anything. In fact, the thought of doing any of these things is repugnant and very upsetting.”
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 3 years ago when everything seemed out of control- my mother’s alcoholism, my ability to take care of her, and most frightening, my mind felt out of control. I remember my husband receiving a drunk voice-mail from my mother on my 27th birthday- slurring and barely comprehensible. I laughed it off. At least she remembered my birthday! But my coping mechanism, to pretend nothing was wrong, only made things worse.
By the fall of 2014, tough decisions had to be made- Where would my mother live? Who will take care of her? Who will ensure her safety? In a time when I felt I had no control over controlling my mother’s life, I turned inward and wrote novels, fantasies and adventures, where I could control my characters’ fates. This worked well for me, and still does, yet anxiety has a funny way of still barging in.
I was hit by a major anxiety spike when my husband was hospitalized at the same time my mother’s status was getting worse- she was resisting all and any help from me, my brother and her doctors. I felt like I had no control over the people around me and my brain seemed to have had enough. The Pure O switch turned on. At that time, I did not know such a condition existed. Now that I do, I want to tell any and every one reading this who may be going through something similar one simple thing- you’re not going crazy.
What is Pure O? Steven J. Phillipson, Ph.D. describes Pure O as “manifested by a two-part process: the originating unwanted thought (spike) and the mental activity which attempts to escape, solve, or undo the spike, called rumination.”
My first Pure O thought happened shortly after visiting my mother in the fall of 2014. The visit was tumultuous. My mother’s depression and mood swings made things unbearable, and the more I tried to put on a brave face, the more anxious I became. I told my brain to “be happy” and ignored my grief. I’m not saying that’s the definitive cause of my Pure O but I do know I was stressed beyond belief and that was a factor for me.
For those who have never experienced ruminating thoughts, the following may seem strange, confusing or perhaps difficult to understand. That’s OK! It’s hard for us suffering to understand too. Again, I am sharing my story to help break the stigma and start a conversation.
… I remember my mom and I watching a CSI marathon and a thought popped in- what makes someone act that way? Could any person flip a switch and do unspeakable crimes? A person without Pure O probably wouldn’t think much about the dialogue going on inside their head while watching TV. But I become fixated on the question.
By the time I got to the airport, the thought was simmering, boiling and a new thought emerged, one that didn’t make much sense, but was grabbing hold of me nonetheless: “I must be obsessing over this because deep down inside something is wrong with me- I must be thinking about this because I must also be capable horrid acts” and with that proposed thought to ruminate over, my mind started racing. I couldn’t stop thinking and my nerves were on fire. The harder I tried not to have the strange thoughts, the more they appeared.
Most thoughts caused by Pure O are horrid to the sufferer. They can be violent, sexual or even foul language, like internal Tourettes.
I had to calm down somehow, so I decided to just and avoid everyone. I cried in the airport bathroom stall. Every time I saw someone, a strange thought popped in. Unable to stop the thought, this only strengthened the idea that something was wrong with me. Why else would I be reacting this way? By the time I was on the airplane, my mind was brimming with racing thoughts and my emotional reactions fed the cycle.
Over the next few months, my mind clasped on to new phrases and disturbing thoughts and I couldn’t logic my way out them. I told myself these thoughts weren’t real and I shouldn’t be worried- yet my gut screamed in pain and I was worrying, all the freakin’ time. At work, I worried I would get caught thinking these strange thoughts. So I got up the nerve to tell some people I was having anxiety (not knowing Pure O was a thing).
I was already seeing a therapist luckily, and hadn’t told her about the Pure O thoughts, in fear that if I spoke of them, I’d be condemned an evil bad person. But one afternoon, I came in sobbing. “I’m losing my mind”. She assured me I wasn’t, but with my mind on fire, I told her point blank “No, you don’t understand. I can’t control my thoughts. And I’m having very bad bad thoughts.” I went on to explain how no matter how hard I tried, strange phrases, images and thoughts crept in uninvited. Whenever I saw a fire alarm, for instance, I wanted to pull it even though I knew I shouldn’t. I resisted the thought and yet couldn’t shake it.When I stroked my cat, I had an odd thought that if I pet too hard, I might break its back. The list goes on.
My therapist almost laughed. “Oh, Oh, sweetie. You have OCD.”
I used to say jokingly I had OCD. That I liked things neatly organized, arranged by color and got annoyed sometimes when doors or cabinets were left ajar, so I had to close them. But this, these thoughts, that wasn’t OCD to me.
“OCD fits under the big umbrella of anxiety. Actually, a lot of mental disorders are closely related in the brain, so it’s no surprise to me that in really stressful points of your life, OCD might trigger.”
No surprise? It’s a big surprise for me! Knowing that this thing, Pure O, even existed, brought me great relief. Being the good librarian I am, I Googled the shit out of this term and found so much information! Where was this info. when I thought I was going crazy? Well, someone thinking they’re going crazy probably isn’t going to Google about it or a term they don’t know.
Oftentimes, from what I’ve read, extremely moral people, those who like rules and following rules or feel they have a strong sense or what is right and wrong are suseptable to Pure O. Anything you deem immoral is especially spiked upon, which of course causes great stress and unrest.
My therapist referred me to a specialist who recommended a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, aka, recognize the thoughts as just thoughts, that they do not hold meaning. Hard to tell someone that who holds their intelligence and overall know-it-all personality their thoughts are without meaning. Uh-huh. My thoughts are meaningful. They make me me. That’s why I’m so scared. You suck as a therapist! I thought. Okay, my therapist didn’t suck, but it was super hard for me to separate my thought from me.
I still have OCD. I have spikes and bad weeks, but overall, I am in a much better place than before. I thank my friends, family, the many blogs and books on OCD to get me through the worse of times.
This week has been especially tough. My mom is now in Assisted Living, with people 20 to 30 years older than her, and grief has set in. I will write another blog post on this topic, on the long goodbye and how the topic of Death affects people like me with OCD. (Can you guess I tend to ruminate on such things? Yeah…)
If this post helped you in any way, please let me know. 🙂